Summary: Approaching Christmas is often a difficult time to love the people around us. Sometimes we need a little encouragment to do so.
Mitch had worked hard all week on his studies. He wrote papers, studied for tests, took exams all week and finally it was Friday. It was time to pick up his friends and go home to visit his family for the weekend. Since it had been such a difficult week, he was exhausted. He decided to take a little nape before he had to drive home. He looked at the clock. It was three P. M. He could get about an hour and a half of sleep before he had to pick up his friends. The next time he saw the clock, it read eight o’clock and the morning sun was shining in his window. He had forgotten to set the alarm!
Mary was babysitting for the Wilsons. After a long day of school and volleyball practice, she arrived at their home. After playing with the kids and getting them off to bed, she was exhausted. She looked at her watch, “Nine o’clock,” she said. “It will be hours before they come home. I can get a quick nap in before I do the dishes and put away the toys.” She woke to sounds in the garage. She looked at her watch. Midnight! The Wilsons were home and the house was a mess!
John had been working hard the past two weeks to meet the deadline for the big project at work. This had been the biggest job his company had ever gotten. It was so exciting at first but now he was exhausted. But tonight was his wedding anniversary. He and his wife were going to have dinner and see a show. He was feeling fine through dinner, but when the lights went out in the theater, he was unable to keep his eyes open. When he woke up and looked at his watch, the theater was empty. His wife had left in anger before the movie was even over.
Most of us have been late for an event because we over slept. Maybe some of us have slept right through an event. Not attending or arriving late may have affected our relationship with our relatives, friends, boss or co-workers. For Mitch, Mary and John, their slumbering had some effects on their relationships with others, as well.
This is what St. Paul is talking about in today’s epistle lesson. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, telling them “and do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believe.” “And do what?” we ask. If we go back to the previous verse, we find out what he’s talking about. It says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the Law.” And do what? Love your neighbor.
Martin Luther asks in his Small Catechism, “Who is our neighbor?”
Is it the boy next door? Yes, and it is the guy across town too. Is it our best friend? Yes and the lady at work that really tests our patience too. Is it our wife and kids? Yes and the guy down the street whose kids throw rocks at your dog too. Who is our neighbor? Look around. If you see someone, that’s your neighbor.
Luther asks, “How should we love our neighbor?”
When my wife and I first got married, we moved to St. Louis where I started seminary. It was a stressful time the first year. I started learning Greek and Hebrew and learned the fine art of being married. I had enough time in my schedule to clean the house, do the dishes and do the laundry while my wife worked. She’d come home and say thank you but then complain that I wasn’t loving her. I read the book, “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman when I was in my 4th year at the seminary. I asked what things made her feel loved: physical touch, receiving gifts, quality time, verbal affirmation or acts of service. She told me that she felt loved when I bought her flowers and told her that I loved her.
I was knocking myself out doing acts of service thinking that she felt loved when I was doing all these tasks but all she wanted me to do was buy her a bouquet of flowers every few weeks and tell her that I love her everyday.
We need to demonstrate love to people in ways that they’ll receive and see as loving. Too often in the church, we tell people that God loves them and forgives them but they don’t get that they’ve done anything wrong. We have to spend the time to get to know people well enough to figure out, discern or have them share with us what their perceived issues are and speak the Gospel to that particular need.